Getting Back To Work

Getting back to work

Hello! My name is Jessica Haaf, DPT and I am a certified professional in work hardening work conditioning program development. If that term is unfamiliar or new to you, keep reading to make it a part of you vocabulary!

Have you been injured on the job? Are you concerned about how your injury will affect your work performance? Are you anxious and ready to return to work, but aren’t sure if you can do your old job?

Here at Aquacare Physical Therapy , we offer a unique and individualized program designed with getting the employee back on the job after injury: Work Hardening/ Work Conditioning.

You may have heard your doctor, case manager, or employer mention this to you and the following information is for you to better understand what work hardening /work conditioning can do for you.

Work hardening /work conditioning is a program offered at Aquacare Physical Therapy to help those injured on the job return to work. Work hardening/ work conditioning allows people to build their strength, cardiovascular endurance, and coordination while under the supervision and guidance of a therapist and/or exercise technician(s) to ensure correct form, technique, and body mechanics so that they will build tolerance to performing activities that they may not have been able to do after sustaining an injury. Work hardening /work conditioning also involves having the individual perform job simulation tasks. This allows the patient to work with the therapist to ensure that correct body mechanics are used when the patient is performing work duties once they return to work. For example, if the patient is using the work hardening /work conditioning program to return to their job as a chef, some job simulation tasks may include standing at a surface the same or similar height as the patient’s work station while using their upper extremity to move around objects the same weight as their cooking utensils for an amount of time similar to the time they spend preparing food. This way, the patient who may have spent weeks to months outside of their work environment, sometimes in very sedentary or less active situations, is gradually re-introduced and exposed to the physical demands needed to perform their job so that when they do return to work, they are physically able to do their job as they have been training for it while participating in this program.

Work hardening /work conditioning is a unique program in that it allows for gradual re-introduction and preparation for patients to return to work in a safe, encouraging, and educational environment. This allows for patients’ full recovery from injury before establishment of a level of work duties that the patient is able to safely and effectively perform once they are cleared to return to work.

Prospective individual’s wanting to participate in the work hardening /work conditioning program typically have a current worker’s compensation case through their employer, referral from their doctor for participation in a work hardening /work conditioning program as well as a lawyer and/or case manager. The individual will meet with the physical therapist for which they have the referral for work hardening work conditioning for an initial work hardening /work conditioning evaluation that may take up to 3 hours to complete. Some components of this evaluation included monitoring of heart rate and blood pressure, assessment of current functional limitations, such as difficulty walking fast, ability to lift heavy loads as well as lift them repeatedly, and body mechanics amongst other topics. The therapist will ask the individual about their job demands, work station set-up, and aggravating factors or duties as well as a variety of other details about the person’s job in order to develop an individualized work hardening work conditioning program. Once the evaluation is complete, the patient will return to the clinic 5 days per week for up to 4-6 hours each day for 4 weeks to participate in their program with progress tracked daily and exercises or tasks appropriately and gradually progressed. The patient will be taught the details of and how to complete each exercise and/or task to facilitate their ability to carry out their program independently, just as the person would do their job. Since the work hardening work/ conditioning program here at Aquacare Physical Therapy is designed to return patients to work, the patient is expected to “clock in” each day and make up missed days from the program just as they would their own job in order to give patients the best possible chance of achieving 100% return to work capacity. After the patient completes the 4 week program, the patient will meet with their evaluating physical therapist for a final re-evaluation to determine the level of work that they will be able to complete based upon their progress through this program and achievement of goals set at the initial work hardening work conditioning evaluation.

The work hardening /work conditioning program is available at Aquacare’s Salisbury locations: Milford Street and the Injury Center on the S-curve. For more information, please contact our office at 410.548.7600. Come join me on September 14 at the Aquacare Twenty year anniversary celebration at our Milford street location!

Jessica Haaf DPT leads our work conditioning/work hardening program at our Salisbury Milford Street Location.

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